Scout's Notebook: Coping With Losses On The D-Line, Other Final Thoughts

IRVING, Texas – Given all the other news coming out of Valley Ranch, it's not exactly surprising to hear that Jeremy Mincey is an end-of-week scratch for Sunday, having suffered an apparent concussion.

It's just been one of those weeks for the Cowboys.

Hopefully, this is the end of the injury talk – because this team has had more than its fair share. But one way or another, the Cowboys will still line up on Sunday afternoon and play host to the Atlanta Falcons.

We've covered all the big topics during the buildup to Week 3, and what will be Brandon Weeden's first start. As usual, here's my final notebook on what to expect when the ball is finally kicked.

  • Ronald Leary is listed as questionable on the injury report, meaning he will be a gametime decision on Sunday. If Leary is unable to go, La'el Collins will get his first NFL start at left guard. Collins has worked all week ahead of Mackenzy Bernadeau, who was the starter against the Eagles last week. In talking to some coaches and front office members, what Collins might lack in game experience as compared to Bernadeau, he is developing a better understanding of what he needs to do in order to handle his assignments.
  • As simple as this might sound, Dallas missed James Hanna last week in the running game. With Hanna back in the lineup, expect to see improvement -- especially on those runs where he is at the point of attack. Hanna might not be the most physically impressive blocker, but he has a keen understanding of how to capture the edge. When he's paired with Jason Witten, he finds ways to get movement.
  • Expect Scott Linehan to continue to find ways for Lance Dunbar to be more involved in the game plan. The Falcons' best cover linebacker is Justin Durant, but this week he has been dealing with a little bit of a foot problem and could be limited in how far he can go. Dunbar has proven to be valuable on the outside, but where can be most effective is on those inside routes – remember what he did against that Dan Quinn's defense in Seattle last year.
  • Byron Jones has done a nice job the first two games of the season in his role as the nickel/dime safety. Jones drew a difficult assignment last week against Zach Ertz and was outstanding in coverage the entire game. This week Jones will face Jacob Tamme, who doesn't have the downfield ability of Ertz but can be just as affective receiving the ball. Jones should be comfortable with the speed -- or lack thereof -- from Tamme, so it will be about him being physical enough to handle him on the underneath routes. The Falcons like to move him around and work him in space for quick throws, so Jones needs to be ready to deal with that.
  • Look for the Falcons to move rookie defensive end Vic Beasley around in order to find the best possible matchups for him to rush. Tyron Smith's athletic ability and power will give Beasley problems, and when Dallas runs the ball to that side, they will have an advantage. Where Beasley has the best chance to have success is when he is across from Doug Free -- who is athletic, but still not completely right with his foot injury. The coaches will likely try and help Free by putting Charles Brown or James Hanna to that side to make him have to rush a little wider.
  • Keep an eye on the matchup inside with these Dallas defensive tackles and Falcons center Mike Person. What I have noticed in studying these games is that Person tends to struggle sustaining his blocks – especially when a defender is physical with him. There were plenty of snaps where Person would snap the ball, have an initial surge, and then go to the ground. Person should be tested early and often in this game to see if he can hold up.
  • Cole Beasley didn't play poorly against the Eagles, but he didn't get the opportunities that we normally see and that was due to Malcolm Jenkins. The Falcons will line Phillip Adams over the top of Beasley and despite having similar size to Jenkins, he is nowhere as physical – nor does he possess the same cover skills. Look for Beasley to be more involved this week and be that best friend to Brandon Weeden in the passing game.
  • In the preseason when Brandon Weeden was getting the opportunity to play, Scott Linehan would call plays where he would move the pocket for him. Some of the better throws that Weeden had were those where he was coming off a play action fake, then having the option to make a high-low read. With Weeden's arm strength and his comfort level of throwing the ball on the move, I would not be surprised to see Linehan continue that pattern of play calling. It could help to create some simple throws that have the potential for nice gains.
  • Last week against the Eagles, the Cowboys went with a three-man rotation at defensive end, which was surprising due to the pace the Eagles use. Kyle Wilber was preparing to play in the role of that fourth end, but he was not used. With Jeremy Mincey now ruled out for this game – the defense is in a little bit of a bind. Jack Crawford is the logical choice to make the start at right end – with Ryan Russell backing up both sides. We could also see DeMarcus Lawrence get some snaps on the right side with either Crawford or Russell playing opposite. The coaches could also once again think about using a linebacker in that spot as a nickel rusher like a 3-4 team would do.
  • As fast as these coaches are trying to get Matt Cassel up to speed with the offense – I can't imagine that he will be the backup quarterback in this game if something were to happen to Brandon Weeden. Kellen Moore has been with the club a little longer and has the confidence of Scott Linehan – so that would give him a little advantage over Cassel despite the fact that he has not seen action in the regular season.
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